Iter Boreale by William Stukeley

Iter Boreale by William Stukeley is in Avebury A Temple of British Druids, With Some Others, Described by William Stukeley.

Iter Boreale by William Stukeley was published posthumously in Itinerarium Curiosum, 2nd.ed., 1776,

In the year 1725, I travelled over the western and northern parts of England, in company of Mr. Roger Gale (age 51), a gentleman well known to the learned world; as his father. Dr. Thomas Gale, dean of York. I was requested, by some lovers of antiquity, to transcribe those notes which I wrote day by day during our journey; and though I had visited several of the places, through which we passed, in my former journeys, yet a second view (especially in company of a person so well versed in antiquities) gave me an opportunity of making some farther remarks, which I flatter myself may be of use to those who are fond of studying the antiquities of our own country.

[Content Missing. See Orignal Source]

SHAP [Map]. On the south side of the town of Shap, six miles fouth of Penrith, we saw the beginning of a great Celtic avenue, on a green common. This is just beyond the horrid and rocky fells, where a good country begins. This avenue is seventy foot broad, composed of very large stones, set at equal intervals: it seems to be closed at this end, which is on an eminence, and near a long flattish barrow, with stone works upon it: hence it proceeds northward to the town, which intercepts the continuation of it, and was the occasion of its ruin; for many of the stones are put under the foundations of houses and walls, being pushed by machines they call a betty or blown up with gunpowder. Though its journey be northward, yet it makes a very large curve, or arc of a circle, as those at Abury, and passes over a brook too. A spring likewise arises in it, near the Greyhound inn. By the brook is a little round sacellum composed of twelve stones, but lesser ones, set by one great stone belonging to the side of the avenue: the interval of the stones is thirty-five foot, half the breadth of the avenue: the stones, no doubt, did all stand upright, because three or four still do; but they were not much higher then, than now as fallen, because of their figure, which is thick and shiort: they are very large, and prodigiously hard, being nothing else but a congeries of crystals of very large sizes, of a flakey nature. Houses and fields lie across the track of this avenue, and some of the houses lie in the inclosure: it ascends the hill, crosses the common road to Penrith, and so goes into the corn-fields on the other side of the way west ward, where some stones are left standing; one particularly remarkable, called Guggleby Stone. The people say these were set up by enchantment: and the better sort of folks, as absurdly affirm, they are made by art. I doubt not but they are gathered somewhere off the surface, among the fells, and that here was a great temple of the old Britons, such as that at Abury, which it resembles very much, as far as I can judge at present; for the rainy weather, which in this country is almost perpetual, hindered me from making at this time a thorough disquisition into it. The ground it runs over consists of gentle risings and fallings, but in general declines toward the west: it is here, and for a great way further north, east and west, a very fine downy turf, and pleasant hills; or at least they seemed so after the rugged and barren views and roads we had just passed: but the country under this turf is a lime-stone, quite different from the stones of the avenue. In our journey hither the country is far worse than the peaks of Derbyshire, and nothing to entertain the eye but the numerous and rare cataracts; whole rivers, and the whole continuance of them, being nothing else; the water every where running among the rocks with great violence and rapidity: even the springs burst out of the ground, and rise into the air with a surprising push: therefore the Britons erected this laborious work very conveniently, beyond that uncultivated frontier, and in a country where they might range about in their chariots at pleasure. I guess, by the crebrity and number of the stones remaining, there must have been two hundred on a side: near them in several places are remains of circles to be seen, of stones set on end; but there are no quantity of barrows about the place, which I wonder at. Though these stones are not of such a flat form as those at Abury, nor so big as some there; yet they are very large, and as heavy as any of those in the avenues there. The site of the place is pretty much bounded eastward by the hill that way adjacent; but there is a large prospect westward, and the country descends that way to a great distance. At a place called in the maps Stone-heaps, we saw a cairn or barrow made of stones: all the tops of the fells, I am told, abound with these crystallised stones.

PENRITH. At the conflux of the rivers Louther and Eimont there is a remarkable curiosity, that illustrates the method of the religious solemnities of the old Britons, as much as any I have seen. Upon the edge of the Louther, where the bridge now passes it, is a delicate little plain, of an oblong form, bounded on the other slde by a natural declivity: this is used to this day for a country rendezvous, either for sports or military exercises, shooting with bows, &c. On this plain stands the antiquity commonly called King Arthur’s Round Table, and suppofed to be used for tilts and tournaments: it is a circle inclosed with a ditch, and that with a vallum. At first sight we may see that it was intended for sports, but not on horseback, because much too little: the vallum on the outside lies sloping inward with a very gradual declivity, on purpose for spectators to stand around it; and it would hold at least 10,000 people. The outside of the vallum is pretty steep: it was high originally, as may be seen now in some parts; but it is worn down, as being by the side of the common road; and the inhabitants carry it away to mend the highways withal. There are two entrances into the area, north and south, or nearly so: one end is inclosed into a neighbouring pasture: the area had a circle within, somewhat higher in elevation than the other. The outer verge of the vallum is a circle of 300 foot: the composition of it is intirely coggles and gravel, dug out of the ditch. Upon part of the plain are marks of the tents of the Scots army, that accompanied King Charles II in his way to Worcester: they encamped here for some time, and drew a small line across part of the southern circle: this was done within memory.

Just 400 foot from the verge of the south entrance is another circle [Little Round Table], 300 foot in diameter, made contrary wise to the former: the vallwn is small, and the ditch whence it was taken is outermost. Thus these two circles and the interval make 1000 foot in length; and there is just room enough without them, next the river and next the bank, for a circus or foot-race, according to the old manner of the Grecian, which were always celebrated by the sides of rivers.

Centum ego quadrijugos agitabo ad flumina currus, &c. Virg. and probably Britilh chariots had here their courses. On the southern end it is manifest they contrived it just to leave room enough for the turn; and it required good sklll to drive a chariot so as not to fall there, or into the river. It must be understood, that the bridge at present, and another of wood formerly a little below it, have impaired the banks by the more southern circle. This is the most delightful place that can be imagined for recreation; the rapid river Louther runs all along the side of it; the Eimot joins it a little way off, in view: beyond is a charming view of a vast wood, and of Brougham castle [Map]; beyond that, the ancient Roman city, and the Roman road going along under the high hill whereon is the beacon. But these are things later in time than our antiquity.

Though upon first sight of the place I knew its purport, yet I was more fully convinced thereof when I went to see Mayborough [Map], as called, which is a little higher up the hill, on an eminence higher than any near it, and full west from this place, or circus: it is a vast concavity, of the same diameter as the circles just mentioned, -viz. 300 foot: it is made with an artificial vallum of loose stones, without any ditch, carried with great labour from some other place, and here orderly piled up, so as to make a rampart as high and as broad as that at Abury: in some places the turf, with which it was covered originally, is peeled off: it hopes inward with a gentle descent on account of spectators; outwardly it is as steep as the nature of the materials would suffer, and now covered over with great timber-trees; the entrance is wide, and opens full east, and to the circus. Within this fine plain, which is now ploughed up, have been two circles of huge stones; four remaining of the inner circle till a year or two ago, that they were blown to pieces with gunpowder: they were of a hard black kind of stone, like that of the altar at Stonehenge: one now stands, ten foot high, seventeen in circumference, of a good shapely kind; another lies along; this inner circle was fifty foot in diameter. One stone, at least, of the outer circle remains, by the, edge of the corn; and some more lie at the entrance within side, others without, and fragments all about. Just by the entrance, along the road runs a spring, full east ward.

This I suppose to be a great British temple, where the country met on solemn days to sacrifice. After the religious duties were over, they went down to the circus to celebrate their games: and I could not but admire the fine genius of these people in chusing places for their sports; for upon the verge of the acclivity, along the circus, an infinite number of people might stand to see the whole without the least inconvenience, besides those in the plain between the two circles; and these two circles admirably well executed the intent of the meta's, but much better than those in the Roman circus's. In ploughing at Mayborough they dug up a brass Celt. On the other side of the Eimot, upon a high ground over-looking all, is a very fine round tumulus, of a large size, and set about with a circle of stones: this in all probability was the funeral monument of the king that founded the temple and circus. Somebody has lately been digging away part of the barrow, and carried off some of the stones, and demolished others.

Long Meg [Map]

Mr. Patten and I went to view that famous monument of antiquity called Long Meg and her Daughters, in the parish of Addingham, between Little Salkeld and Glasenby. It stands upon a barren elevated plain of high ground, under the vast hill called Cross-fell, to the east. This plain declines to the east gently, or rather north-east, for that I find to be the principal line observed by the founders. It is a great Celtic temple, being a circle of 300 foot diameter, consisting of 100 stones: they are of unequal bulk; some are of very large dimensions; many are standing, but more fallen, and several carried away; but lately they have destroyed some by blasting, as they call it, i.e. blowing them in pieces with gunpowder; others they have sawed for mill-stones: but the major part remaining, gives one a just idea of the whole; and it is a most noble work. The stones are not all of the same kind; some made of square crystallisations, of the same sort as those at Shap; and I saw many of that sort of stone scattered about the country; others of the blue, hard, flaky sort, like those of the temple at Mayborough [Map]. The intervals are not exactly equal, but judiciously adapted to the bulks of the stones, to preserve as much as possible a regular appearance. This large ring, thus declining north-east, is now parted through by a ditch; so that the larger half lies in an inclosure, the other in a common; and the road lies by the side of it, that goes from Little Salkeld to Glasenby.

South-west from it, seventy foot, stands a very great and high stone, called Long Meg [Map], of a reddish girt, seeming to have been taken from the side of some quarry of the country: I think it leans a little north-east: it is about fifteen foot high. In the middle of the circle are two roundsfh plots of ground, of a different colour from the rest apparently, and more stony and barren; which probably were the immediate places of burning the sacrifices, or the like. Not far hence toward Glasenby is a very fine spring; whence, no doubt, they had the element of water, used at their religious solemnities: and higher up the field is a large spring, intrenched about with a vallum and foss, of a pretty great circumference, but no depth.

Full south-west from this work, in the next inclosure and higher ground, is another circle of lesser stones, in number twenty: the circle is fifty foot diameter; and at some distance above it is another stone placed, regarding it, as Meg does the larger circle. In that part of the greater circle next the Angle stone called Meg [Little Meg [Map]], are two stones standing beyond the circle a little, and another fallen; which I believe were a sort of sacellum perhaps for the pojitifex to officiate in: and westward is another stone or two, perhaps of a like like work; but the ruinous condition of the work would not admit of any certainty about it.

Castlerigg [Map]

We continued our journey through this rough country, and passed half round the bottom of the famous Skiddaw, a high mountain named from its fancied likewise to a shoe (ysoyd.) Penruddoc, a town near it, with a Welsh name. These desolate and hilly regions were the retiring places of the Britons from the power of the Romans; which perhaps is the reason of the great number of temples scattered throughout the country; for a mile before we came to Keswick, on an eminence in the middle of a great concavity of those rude hills, and not far from the banks of the river Greata, I observed another Celtic work, very intire: it is 100 foot in diameter, and consists of forty ftones, some very large. At the east end of it is a grave, made of such other stones, in numfer about ten: this is placed in the very east point of the circle, and within it: there is not a stone wanting, though some are removed a little out of their first station: they call it the Castles, and, corruptly I suppofe, Castle-rig. There seemed to be another larger circle in the next pasture toward the town.

Boroughbridge. The stones, as much famed by the name of the Devil’s Arrows [The Devil's Arrow's [Map]], as misrepresented by writers, stand in some fields, half a mile west of the Roman road south of Boroughbridge. Some think them Roman, though they regard not any Roman work hereabouts: some say they are factitious, though plain stone as possible. They are stones of very large dimensions, and have been hewn pretty square, much as those at Stonehenge; but silly people have knocked off the edges: their height is very great: they were very taper and well-shaped, and much of an obelisk form; but the tops are decayed, and long furrows worn down on all sides along the tenderest part of the grain of the stone. I remarked, that they all lean somewhat southward. The stone is intirely composed of small white crystals, unperishable by weather: they are certainly natural, and brought about ten miles off, from the west, where more such lie above ground in great plenty. Three now stand; one was taken away, as all report, to make a bridge over the bec a little eastward. The cross near the church is of the same stone. These stones stood 200 foot asunder, pretty near in a line north and south: the first stone westward is not so high as the other, but broader much, and stands square, or perpendicular to the line of direction; it is 8½ foot broad, 4½ thick, 23 foot about; the second in the next pasture is square each side, but not precisely; it is 5 foot broad, 4 foot thick, 18 foot fquare: the next is twice as far distant, and beyond the road, of a figure much like the former, but rather higher, as that is higher than the first; this is 5 foot by 4: the two last are very beautiful obelisks, and their height about 25 foot, as I guess. The ground this fine monument stands on is high, and declines every way a little from it; the great river [River Ure], the brook, and some low ground to the south, hem it in as it were. Mr. Gale, and the beforementioned clergyman, some time since dug under one to the foundation, and found that it was about five foot under ground, and fastened into its seat by stones laid in clay, quite around it, as a wall: they put four half-pence, in a leaden box underneath, of queen Anne, Vigo, &c. and filled it up again. I could not commend them for it, as it could only tend to mistead the curious of future times.